Featured Pioneer Profile

John Chantler McDougall
(27 December, 1842 - 17 January, 1917). A Methodist missionary who established a mission among the Stoney at Morleyville in 1873. McDougall was present for the negotiation of Treaty No.6 at Fort Pitt in 1876 and Treaty No.7 at Blackfoot Crossing in 1877.

Excerpt from James Ernest Nix, "McDOUGALL, JOHN CHANTLER," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2003-, accessed December 15, 2016, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdougall_john_chantler_14E.html.

Upcoming Presentation - January 16, 2017

Commemorating Rev. John McDougall
1842 – 1917 : A Century Later

See brochure for more details.

Christmas Dinners of the Old West

by Elizabeth Bailey Price

Elizabeth Bailey Price was the daughter of the Southern Alberta Pioneer, George Hazen Bailey. She is known for her work as a journalist and for her work with the Women's Institute. Her biographical and historical articles about pioneers, native peoples, railways, sports and the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) appeared in many Canadian publications. In 1922, she was appointed as the first Secretary-Treasurer for the Womens' Pioneer Association of Southern Alberta.

What would you have for Christmas dinner, if you [had] no vegetables, no fruit, no eggs and no milk? That was the problem that confronted Mrs. John McDougall [ed. Elizabeth Boyd], the first British-Canadian woman of Southern Alberta, when she went to prepare Christmas dinner in 1873, in her lonely little log cabin, in the Foothills of the Rockies, hundreds of miles from relatives, friends and European neighbors.

But this dauntless pioneer was not downhearted. She took a look at the rough open pantry shelves. There she found flour, salt, soda, currants and tea, which her husband had freighted in on his last trip from Fort Benton. Hanging on the walls of the woodshed, too, was plenty of frozen buffalo meat, for the camp-hunters, her husband and his missionary band of Stoney Indians, had struck the migrating buffalo on the southern plains a few weeks before.

There was a good supply of pemmican too, for no larder of the buffalo days was complete without this "staff of life". This was stored in buffalo hide bags, with the hair toward the outside. The Indians flavored their pemmican with dried saskatoons or choke cherries, but Mrs. McDougall used sugar and currants.

The day before Christmas she went to work. Mixing some flour with buffalo marrow, which she says equals the finest butter, she then added sugar, currants, and water, into which she had put the right proportion of soda. This made a most delicious cake, and the dessert problem was solved. Then on Christmas Day she roasted a large piece of the finest buffalo meat, in a cook stove which had been brought into the country with great difficulty. Bannock, made of flour, salt, soda and water, took the place of potatoes. The whole menu was an appetizing meal.

Mrs. James Macleod [ed. Mary Isabella Drever], wife of the late Colonel James Macleod, tells of the first western Christmas dinner of the first division of the famous North West Mounted Police at Fort Macleod in 1874. The men arrived late the fall and had been extremely busy building winter quarters. These were not completed before Christmas was upon them. As yet no floor had been built so the home made table was set in the centre of a buffalo wallow, on-the-cart. Colonel Macleod had made a trip to Fort Helena for supplies and had brought back a turkey, ingredients for a plum pudding, which included eggs he had paid $6.00 per dozen. The menu was besides these [comprised of] – boiled buffalo meat, potatoes, and biscuits, with plenty of strong tea to wash it down.


Mother's Plum Pudding

A traditional recipe used by the family. They all had a stir in it while in the making, for good luck.

2 lbs. suet, finely chopped
1 lb. brown sugar
9 or 10 eggs
3 lbs. currants, cleaned, washed and dried
2 lbs. raisins, cleaned, washed and dried
1 lb. peel, finely chopped
2 lbs. fine bread crumbs
1 lb. flour
4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 glass brandy or orange juice

When suet is finely chopped and measured, add brown sugar, then eggs one at a time, each with a different person to stir while eggs are being added. Sprinkle 1 cup flour over currants, raisins and peel which have been mixed together. Next add the bread crumbs to the well-mixed egg mixture. Sift remaining flour with nutmeg and cinnamon. Now add floured fruit and peel mixture to the egg mixture alternating with the flour. You'll need help stirring this. Lastly add the brandy and have a sip yourself – you deserve it.

Mix well and put pudding in bowls, greased and sprinkled with sugar (optional).

Fill bowls 2/3 full. Steam in a heavy kettle, on a tivet, over 1 inch of boiling water. Cover closely and steam for 2 or 3 hours, according to the size of your pudding. This recipe makes several bowls and can be frozen. Keeps well. Serves 10-12.

This recipe and many others can be found in the cookbook "From the Pioneer Kitchens" available through the SAPD.

Lady Lougheed [ed. Isabella Hardisty] of Calgary, who was born at Fort Resolution tells of a winter, at Fort Ray, when she and her family lived for seven months on white fish – the allowance being three pounds per person per day. In preparing Christmas dinner that year, her mother took a large white fish (these being seldom less than fifteen pounds) washed and cleaned it thoroughly, except for the scales. She then placed it in the fireplace, and covered it with hot ashes, where it remained until the scales became crisp and began to curl – this taking about half an hour. When lifted out, it was just a moment work to scale it, and the flavor was delicious.

Mrs. Nellie McClung, the prominent Canadian author, whose parents Mr. and Mrs. John Mooney, were pioneers on a farm thirty miles from Brandon, Manitoba, in the early '80s', remembers her mother's famous vinegar pies – a tasty dessert, which met the lack of fruit and eggs. These were made of bread crumbs, diluted vinegar, brown sugar, and raisins or currants, with nutmeg or cinnamon flavorings. An apple Jelly tart, too, was another Christmas treat. This was made from the cores and peelings of ripe red apples – the leavings of the apple sauce.

And over all these early Yule-tide feasts on the lonely western prairie reigned the spirit of hospitality. No formal invitations were extended, for all were welcome at the "festive board". No table cloths shed their snowy whiteness, nor did imported China interfere with the simple service of such meals. The bright tin plates and dishes reflected strong Jolly faces, and burnished gold can give no truer zest to any feast.


Vinegar Pie

Mrs. Mooney was not the only one to make Vinegar Pie, as it was a perfect dessert for poor farming families who didn't have access to fancy ingredients. Laura Ingalls' Ma (of Little House fame) would also make vinegar pies at Christmastime. There are many recipes available online just by googling vinegar pie, but here is an old fashioned one.

Image from the Money Saving Mom website

This article was adapted from the original Manuscript of "Christmas Dinners of the Old West" held by the Glenbow Archives. A different version can be found in the December 22, 2015 issue of AG Matters